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News 15 Dec 06
Experts: Asia slow to act on pollution
By Michael Casey, AP Environmental Writer
YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia - Japan says soot from Chinese power stations is poisoning its lakes. Coal emissions from India and China are polluting the air in Bangladesh.
Land-clearing forest fires in Indonesia routinely send a choking haze across Singapore and Malaysia.
Asia needs to follow the lead of the United States and Europe and enact regional pacts to reduce cross-border pollution, setting emission limits on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other chemicals, several experts at the Better Air Quality Conference 2006 said Friday.
Nations have not done so yet because of political sensitivities, questions over research findings and fears among the biggest polluters that the agreements could hurt their economies, experts told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference in Indonesia's cultural hub of Yogyakarta.
"At this moment, there is no mechanism to regulate this transboundary problem," said Michal Krzyzanowski, a regional adviser for the World Health Organization.
"You need to agree on emission ceilings and common efforts to reduce the pollution. It will come. It took a decade or more in Europe to get together even though it was more evident there," he said.
Almost a thousand government officials, environmentalists and experts attended the three-day meeting that wrapped up Friday, with discussions focusing on vehicle emissions, urban pollution and expanding public transport.
The closing statement, however, did not mention cross-border pollution, which is regarded by many experts as one of the region's biggest challenges.
Concerns are especially high over pollution generated by the booming economies of China and India.
The omission angered delegates from Bangladesh, who pushed for the issue to be included in the statement, saying coal emissions from India and China were polluting the air in their country.
"We are being squeezed by the two great polluters," said Meshkat Ahmed Chowdhury, a deputy secretary in Bangladesh's Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.
"They are not listening to us," he said. "The world community should hear our voices and should make the big polluters cut their emissions or compensate us so we can take appropriate action."
Concerns about cross-border pollution in Asia have been around for more than a decade, but attention has grown with recent headlines about choking haze in Hong Kong and the dramatic decline in air quality in the city.
About 80 percent of the smog is blamed on traffic exhaust, coal-burning power plants and factories in southern China. One Hong Kong study found pollution contributes to 1,600 deaths in the city a year, fueling fears that tourists and investors may shift their attention to cleaner cities such as Singapore.
Similar concerns have been expressed in Japan and South Korea about the impact of acid rain on lakes and forests in those countries. Much of the blame is laid on China.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has said that much of the airborne mercury in the United States originates in China and other countries.
Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have complained since 1997 about haze drifting from Indonesia, where annual fires are started as part of seasonal land-clearing. Indonesia argues it lacks the money and technical expertise to prevent or control the fires.
The conference was offered some good news, however. Officials from China promised to reduce levels of sulfur dioxide, a key component of acid rain, by 10 percent nationwide by 2010. Some cities have agreed to reduce levels by as much as 60 percent, they said.
Guangdong province and neighboring Hong Kong also plan to launch a pilot program at the end of this year to reduce pollution from power plants in the two territories. The plan involves an "emissions trading" scheme in which polluters receive emissions quotas and may sell unused quotas to other polluters. Factories or power plants will be fined if they exceed their quotas.
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